Monthly Archives: May 2012

31/05/2012

I can’t believe it’s been over a week since my last post. The truth of the matter is we’ve now fallen into a sort of routine, and unfortunately posting to the blog was one thing which was left behind.

Work is still progressing on the house – the rainwater barrel installation is nearly complete (I’m just waiting for a final Ebay order of some connecting tubes). We searched high and low for an adjustable hole cutter (so that I can cut an 80mm diameter hole in one of the barrels for the downpipe entry) and finally gave up, ordering this item, like so many other things, from Ebay.

We’ve also managed to have a bath every day for over a week now – mind you, we’ve needed it as most of the work we’ve been doing has created a lot of dust. I’m pleased to report I managed to clear a space in the woodshed, and made An Important Find. I discovered four large 44-gallon drums (210 litres if you’ve gone metric) with removable lids! These will come in very handy for making charcoal at a later date. Basically you fill the barrel with wood, put the lid on tight (installing a pipe to let gases escape) and light a fire under the barrel. The wood inside is basically cooked, converting it to charcoal. And as a bonus, you can use the gases coming out of the pipe for fuel as well – either for cooking or running an engine. During the Second World War many vehicles were converted to run on wood gas.

The war on the Colorado Beetles is progressing, and I think the tide has finally turned. Every day last week we were getting around 30 beetles. This number has fallen over the past couple of days to 13, and today was an all-time low of 7.

We also visited Castorama in Orleans yesterday, and spotted a wooden porch at a knock-down price of around 40€. This will come in very handy to shelter the kitchen door from the rain. Today’s shopping consisted of visiting Leroy Merlin in St. Doulchard (about 40km away). The aim was to purchase some paint and also a double-glazed PVC window (we have 3 more to order but I want to see how easy they are to install before purchasing the rest). The window we purchased is for the kitchen, and the aperture measures 1042mm in height by 1085mm width. Without having a window purpose-made, the closest size displayed in the catalogue and on Leroy Merlin’s website was 1050mm high by 1000mm wide. This size I was fairly sure would fit, with a bit of chiselling of the cement window surround at the bottom, and a bit of filling in at the sides.
However.
Taking my trusty tape measure with us, we measured this window. Its actual measurements were 1050mm in height by 1065mm in width, so I’ve no idea what brand of tape measure they were using. The good news is it will fit even better than we thought.

We’ve been attacked by what we think must be fleas. The cat has now been banned from the bedroom, and is Not Happy. The bed linen has been washed at 90 degrees and the mattress sprayed with some anti-tick, anti-flea, anti-bedbug, anti-pretty-much-everything stuff. Despite examining ourselves, and the bed, and the cat, closely, we have not found a single flea. So maybe all our itchy bites are from mosquitoes (there are quite a lot around). We’re now caked head to toe in bug repellant. So this is just to make you aware life on La Darnoire is not always entirely rosy!

I’ve also been occupied with registering domain names and all that sort of stuff, ready for setting up the website of which this blog will form a part. I’ll be able to include many more photos on the actual web pages, as I’m not entirely happy with the way they are displayed here.

Last Friday was a day which will hereafter be known as “The Day Of The Great Pepper Pot Disaster.”
LSS had made a salad for dinner, consisting of lettuce, cubes of ham, cucumber, tomatoes, and sliced crab sticks. She had already added the vinegar and oil, mayonnaise and salt, and the last thing to go in was a sprinkle of pepper.
I was in the garage at the time, and heard an anguished “Oh la la”. Upon investigating the reason for this cry, the lid had fallen off the pepper pot at first shake, with the result that the salad bowl appeared to consist of an amorphous mound of grey stuff. I made the mistake of trying to blow some of the pepper away. I now know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a pepper spray.
“Maybe it won’t be too bad,” I said, scraping some pepper off what I think was a piece of cucumber and popping it into my mouth to test.
Yuk.
To cut a long story short, the salad was finally rescued by washing the whole lot, and LSS adding more vinegar, oil and mayonnaise. Upon tasting, it was quite nice. However, my quip of “Hmm, very tasty. Needs pepper though.” was met with a stony glare, and I have not been the flavour of the month since.

I have therefore been occupied in fitting out my dog kennel workshop by clearing some space against one wall, laying some concrete foundations (no bricks this time!) and installing my workbench. Of course there’s no power or lighting in the workshop yet but there will be, oh yes there will be.

24/05/2012

This morning LSS had an appointment in Romorantin with the Pole-Emploi (Job Centre) as she had been advised to visit them to discuss her proposed assumption of the role of Auto-Entrepreneur (Self-employed person to us commoners). This was pretty much a complete waste of time; the staff member was only interested in ticking the neat row of little boxes on the “Client Job Search” form; obviously none of these boxes were ticked because LSS is not actually looking for a job. So the staff member was left moderately unsatisfied, her rows of little boxes still blank.

We were also informed that in order to get a job (or even become self-employed), the first thing necessary is to obtain a thing called a “Carte Vitale”, the French Health Insurance Card. We therefore trotted around to the local Social Services offices which issue these.
“Oh, non!” the woman behind the counter exclaimed when we explained the reason for our visit. “You first need to be in employment for 90 days before we can issue you with one of these.”
Joseph Heller would have been proud.

Back on the farm, I mixed up another batch of lime mortar and filled some more holes in the pantry walls whilst LSS visited the aged FIL. This was just as well, as it turned out that the domestic assistance lady had not turned up to feed him his lunch. LSS sent an angry email to the domestic assistance company basically saying “What’s going on?” and is now in possession of the schedule for the next few weeks. Apparently they were aware that nobody would be turning up today, but the office staff member that notifies people of the schedules is on holiday, and That Is Her Job And Nobody Else’s.

I sharpened the blades of the aged FIL’s lawnmower with the aid of my angle grinder, and LSS trimmed the jungle grass near the pond. We then had another much-needed bath in the sunshine in the garden, followed by a barbecue with a couple of well-deserved beers. Speaking of which, it’s symptomatic of this Health And Safety Culture that the bottles of 1664 now carry the following instructions: “Pour ouvrir, utiliser un décapsuleur adapté” with a picture of a bottle opener.

Beer bottle top

I suppose Kronenbourg got fed up with being sued by angry Frenchmen saying things like “You didn’t tell me I needed to uthe a bottle opener to open my bottle of 1664, with the rethult that I now have theveral broken teeth. What are you going to do about it?”

The Colorado Beetle patrol successfully ambushed and exterminated another two dozen beetles. I found myself walking up and down the rows of potatoes, brandishing the half-brick-and-tile and talking like a Dalek. “Exterminate! Exterminate!”
I have no idea where all these beetles are coming from.

Wildlife diary: Nothing much to report, unless you include the little brown and grey mouse which the cat brought back proudly at lunchtime to show us, and then promptly ate.

23/05/2012

In the morning we did our weekly shopping, and stopped off at the aged aunt to have a shower and collect our post. Then in the afternoon I finished the bricklaying for the support columns for our rainwater recovery storage system.

Of course this meant I was hot and sweaty; and as LSS had been tackling the brambles, so was she. So we had a bath in the garden in the late afternoon sunshine. Two washes in one day – we feel like we’ve won the lottery!

The following reminds me of a story I read somewhere a while ago – I don’t know how true it is. Some time in the fifties, someone placed an advertisement in the New York Times. “Guaranteed Cockroach Killer! Send in your dollar now!”
People that sent in a dollar received, by return post, two pieces of wood, with the instructions to place the cockroach on one piece of wood and hit it with the other. A complaint was received, but no action was taken because the advertisement was not actually misleading.
Why this story? Well, tonight LSS and I carried out several Colorado Beetle patrols. These beetles are out in force amongst the newly-sprouted potato plants. We took it in turns to patrol up and down the rows of potatoes, armed with a half-brick and a small piece of roof-tile. We place the Colorado beetle on the small piece of roof-tile and hit it with the brick. Guaranteed results. We must have disposed of well over 20 beetles in the space of an hour or so. Patrols will resume tomorrow, as bad light stopped play.

Wildlife diary: I decided to exclude the Colorado beetles from this as, although they are technically wildlife, they’re not welcome. Instead, I chronicle the rescue by LSS of a very bright green 30-cm long lizard from the cat. It was playing dead (the lizard, not the cat). We released it into the garden where it lay motionless, its little sides heaving for breath. We left it alone and when we returned ten minutes later it had gone. So it had obviously run off into the shrubbery. Mind you, the cat was looking rather well-fed. Although that is her normal appearance.

22/05/2012

Today I tried my hand at mixing up some lime putty and filling the holes in the wall where the plaster has come away. It seems to be a very similar methodology to using cement mortar, but much more workable.

I then managed to slice open the ball of my thumb on a broken tile. Where the plaster has come away from the walls in the living room, it has also brought with it a row of tiles which form a skirting board. I was chiselling the cement backing off these tiles so that they could be re-used when I managed to break one. For some reason I picked up the broken piece without sufficient care, and discovered that the edge was razor-sharp. Unfortunately the tiny (supposedly) waterproof sticking-plasters which we had in the medicine chest proved insufficient at staunching the flow, so in addition I had to wrap lots of Sellotape around my thumb to avoid getting blood on everything I touched.

LSS spent the entire afternoon with the aged FIL, awaiting the delivery of the “lit médicalisé”, which finally turned up at around 16h30. Needless to say, whilst she was away, the borehole man turned up to see if he could determine whether we were suited for a borehole or not. This led to an interesting conversation. Fortunately he was Dutch, so between his Schoolboy English, my Afrikaans, his French, and lots of sign language, he diagnosed a source of water some 20m from the house, at a depth of 45m, so will be posting us a quote. His findings are guaranteed; if there’s no water there, we don’t pay a cent.

LSS also borrowed one of the aged FIL’s lawnmowers, because the grass around the house has liked the rain so much it is now almost waist-high in places. The cat loves it; two steps and she’s invisible, much to the chagrin of the mice.

I may need to consider fitting the lawnmower with a snorkel due to the amount of rain we’re getting at the moment. Mind you, today it didn’t start raining until 17h00.

Wildlife diary: A grey heron in the shallows of the pond, stalking up and down. Unsuccessful at catching his dinner tonight though, but it must have had some success here in the past because when we first moved in we found the skeletons of two carp in the garden.

21/05/2012

This morning I managed to lay the bricks for one of the foundation pillars for the rainwater barrels, but as I put the last brick in place the heavens opened. It rained hard for the rest of the day. The gutters are still doing their task, it’s just unfortunate that the rainwater barrels aren’t connected up yet. I suspect as soon as they’re in place and connected, we won’t have any more rain for months.

So moving the centre of operations indoors, I removed the remaining loose wall plaster in the pantry. It’s now ready for re-plastering.

20/05/2012

It rained last night. Not a lot, but sufficient to test the guttering (sigh of satisfaction at a job well done). The gutters are working fine. Now I just need to connect the downpipes, but this needs to wait until the rainwater barrels are in place. I struggled to find any suitable connectors locally to join the rainwater barrels together; the common-or-garden 20mm diameter connectors won’t do the job because the entire contents of an 80mm diameter downpipe are entering the barrel. Elementary school mathematics reveals a problem (if a bath is filled by two taps at a rate of ten litres per minute, and drains away down the plug-hole at a rate of five litres per minute, how long will it take two men to find the missing plug?)

In other words, if the 80mm diameter pipe is carrying a full capacity of water, it stands to reason that a total diameter of 80mm is required to exit the barrel to prevent it overflowing. So the plan is to have a 40mm diameter pipe joining the barrels, and a 40mm pipe as an overflow. I was able to find some 40mm diameter tank connectors online (again from the UK), and as I already have some lengths of 40mm pipe, I can follow the golden rule described underneath the logo at the top of this page.

19/05/2012

The guttering is finally finished! I checked the slope by the simple expedient of pouring a bottle of water in one end of the gutter, and seeing it trickle all the way along.

The end section on the north side of the house required me to stand on the roof of one of the outbuildings. In order to do this I decided to use one of the wooden ladders which were stored in the barn (the idea being that laying the ladder flat against the roof tiles it would spread my weight and avoid any tile breakage). The first ladder I disregarded immediately; it is incredible heavy and is also tied in place (giving access to the loft area above the house). The second looked a better bet, but it seemed a bit light, so I decided to test it out first. I leaned it up against the house wall, and carefully started to climb. The reason for its light weight became apparent as I stood on the third rung; the ladder broke in half due to the activities of – you guessed it – woodworm. It has now joined the other wood-stove fuel material. The third ladder was a home-made one, but was not as old as the others and turned out to be solid enough.

The other task carried out today was to cut more wood for the ever-hungry wood stove, and a much-needed bath in the kitchen was once again enjoyed by both of us; the weather was a bit too windy for our external bathroom. There also wasn’t much sunshine!

LSS assisted the aged FIL with his exercise again today. This consisted of walking from the bedroom to the kitchen and back again. Three times. He didn’t want to walk any further because the previous time he’d walked more than three circuits, he had an incontinence episode. Of course the fact that he’s now on a self-imposed diet of prunes in addition to his normal daily laxative dose had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Wildlife diary: Three fox-cubs playing tag in the field opposite the house. I think when we finally install our chickens we’re going to need a stout fence!

18/05/2012

Worked on the guttering all day. It’s so time-consuming because the roof isn’t straight, so every gutter-clip support bracket needs to be bent in a slightly different way.
I must have walked 15 miles today. Up the ladder, try the bracket, down the ladder, walk to the workshop, bend bracket in vice, walk back to ladder….
Still, the second side of the house is nearly complete; only about 2m left to do. Then I need to fit the downpipes.

I showed LSS how to mix and pour concrete into the foundation hole she dug yesterday. Two more foundations need to be poured, then I can build some brick supports for the rainwater barrels. Unfortunately the little taps which came with the barrels are only of use if you want to fill a watering can; you can’t connect a hosepipe to them. So a bit of online research showed that plastic taps were available which had an in-built hose connector. What’s strange is that we were able to buy 6 of these taps from an Ebay seller in the UK (including postage) for the price of 2 of them from Leroy Merlin. I sniff a business opportunity!

The potatoes have started poking their leafy shoots through the soil; the marigolds have also made an appearance, but everything else is being somewhat slow. Mind you, the temperatures have been somewhat below normal for this time of year.

It was cloudy and windy again today, but in the evening the sun came out for an hour so we rapidly decided to barbecue some chicken for supper, and very nice it was too.

Wildlife diary: Two large toads. I had moved the rusty old dog kennel as it was getting in the way of the scaffolding (to the best of my knowledge there never was a dog in residence!) and they had buried themselves in the soil underneath. I carefully carried each of them to a separate rabbit hole – let’s see how the rabbits like their new tenants!

17/05/2012

Gutters, gutters, gutters. One side of the house is now complete, with the exception of the two downpipes. One of these needs to be funneled into our waste water system (yet to be constructed) and the other requires the partial dismantling of the outside toilet wall in order to obtain access to our 3,500-litre-capacity rainwater recovery barrels. In the interim we’ve utilised one of the large wooden barrels to collect any runoff.

I started the second side of the house, with the aid of the aforementioned scaffolding. Whilst I was climbing up and down ladders, LSS cut the ivy which was beginning to smother the chestnut trees opposite the house. I also gave her a task to do.
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to mark out where the rainwater recovery barrels will go, and dig three holes for the concrete foundations. This message will self-destruct once the rainwater barrels are in place.”

Tomorrow’s mission: Mixing concrete. Mwuhahahaha.

I also erected the second washing line, as we were able to buy the line in the supermarket yesterday. At least this one was long enough! (ref. my washing line is too short)

Wildlife diary: A large toad. There was a large sheet of rusty metal in the back garden where the rainwater recovery barrels will go, so we removed this. A large toad was underneath and was very unhappy to be disturbed. We left him burying himself in the soil again.

Why on earth the aged FIL left bits of metal all over the garden is anybody’s guess. Perhaps he was planning on holding a convention for metal detectorists. The other legacy we’re having to deal with on a daily basis is glass. It would appear that every time something containing glass was broken, the pieces were just thrown outside next to the house walls. We’ve taken three bucketfuls of glass shards to the glass recycling bank already, including bits of broken bottles, drinking glasses, phials, window panes, and sundry unidentified bits which could possibly have belonged to spectacles at one stage in their lifetime.

Whilst I’m on the subject of the aged FIL’s various idiosyncrasies, I took advantage of the scaffolding to open up the external light fitting for the house. Lo and behold, it was half full of the desiccated remains of various bugs. I was going to say “cremated remains” but there is no way they could have been cremated; the light bulb was of the 40-watt variety. Every. Single. Bulb. In. The. House was 40 watts when we moved in. You couldn’t see a thing. Except for the pantry though. That was special. A 15-watt refrigerator bulb had been bodged into the main lighting circuit.

Yet another bank holiday today, which could explain why the weather for May so far has been dismal. Cloudy, cold and windy in general. Surely that’s not normal? We had the wood stove on all day today. But fortunately we haven’t had to use any of the wood I’d cut; LSS decided to clear out another of the outbuildings and discovered a cache of bits of firewood underneath some more old oak barrels.

16/05/2012

This morning we once again did our weekly shopping, including visiting the chemist for another round of the aged FIL’s medicines. I’m starting to think they are beginning to look forward to our weekly visit, as it was a bit disconcerting when we were about to enter the pharmacy. A chap in a striped waistcoat and top hat barred our entry until another acolyte had finished rolling out a red carpet. He then bowed profusely and ushered us in, where we were seated in comfortable armchairs and offered tea and biscuits. Not without reason; today we ordered the famous “lit médicalisé”. Delivery is scheduled for next Tuesday. Oh won’t the aged FIL be surprised! Especially as he has said he doesn’t want it. “The nurse can just wash me in my own bed.” Uh, no, they don’t do that. Besides, the doctor has prescribed a lit médicalisé, so a lit médicalisé he’s going to get.

We also visited the local DIY store to have a look what they had in stock, and to see if we could find a kettle. I’m talking the non-electric variety here; you know – the old type like a camping kettle, which you can put on a gas hob or wood stove. Well, we’d looked in the various supermarkets without success (“Kettles – yes, we have some nice coloured 2000W in stock. What do you mean, non-electric? ALL kettles are electric. How are you going to plug in a non-electric kettle? Don’t be silly.”)
Well, the DIY store had one. I looked at the price and blinked vigorously. Unfortunately the blinking had no effect; the price tag remained unchanged. 99 Euros. Must be because of the “retro” look. Something else we’ll need to look for on Ebay.

The afternoon was spent installing guttering, whilst LSS mixed up a batch of nettle surprise.
Recipe for Nettle Surprise:
1 kg of chopped nettles
10 litres of water
Add one to the other (it doesn’t matter which way around) and leave for two weeks, stirring every two days until it’s stopped bubbling.
Dilute 1:10 and use as a liquid fertilizer. The surprise is the smell.
*Note: keep mixture as far away from the house as possible.

LSS and I have started having a tug-of-war for possession of the laptop. We bought this before leaving the UK, and we’re very glad we did; we were checking emails using a dial-up modem before our broadband access was connected. I’m looking forward to sorting out the electricity in the sitting room so that I can plug in the server and each of our computers. At the moment all there is electricity-wise is a sad-looking single plug socket at shoulder height. It’s capable of running the printer, router, and Livebox ADSL modem but that’s about all.

So whilst LSS is using the laptop in the evening, I’m reduced to making blog notes in longhand – and my handwriting is not of the same calligraphic standard it once was.

As the weather was still miserable, we once again had a bath in the kitchen. The water from the “ballon” is starting to look slightly clearer with fewer rusty flakes in it.

Wildlife diary: On the way back from shopping, an extremely large hare bounded across the road, stared at us in surprise, and as soon as the car had passed, dashed back across the road again.